€œDefending IP€� = €œExtending IP€�


Last Saturday was “World IP Day” - a rather strange idea, since it's the intellectual equivalent of “World Prison Day” promoting the benefits of incarceration to tender young minds. Happily, nobody seemed to notice this particular attempt to put lipstick on a pig. But it's indicative of a wider and more pernicious attempt to extend intellectual monopolies around the world. Indeed, the meme of “defending IP” - which means in practice “extending IP” - is being used in much the same way as the non-existent “war on terror” to justify all kinds of Draconian laws on the grounds that extreme circumstances require extreme measures.

The latest attempt to increase the stranglehold of intellectual monopolies on business comes in a particularly worrying form. The innocuous-sounding TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) seems to be a cosy club of the rich and powerful hoping to increase both their wealth and power by reducing legal constraints on their actions.

One of its aims is to prevent the “erosion of intellectual property rights” - this at a time when intellectual monopolies are being imposed on more and more developing countries, and when their scope is constantly being ratcheted up with each new piece of intellectual monopoly legislation around the world. Specifically, here's what they want from the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), “a political body to oversee and accelerate government-to-government cooperation with the aim of advancing economic integration between the European Union and the United States of America”, which is meeting in a couple of weeks:

Patent harmonization: The TEC work program needs to specify the step-by-step plan proposed for progress on convergence of US and EU patent regulation.

The harmonisation of US and EU patent regulation is currently impossible, largely because software cannot be patented in the EU, but can in the US. It seems highly likely, then, that this "convergence" is an attempt to bring in European software patents by the backdoor, since all attempts to achieve this using regular channels have failed.

There has been a long and acrimonious debate about software patents in Europe, with the result that software remains unpatentable. If the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue really wants harmonisation, it should support desperately-needed patent reform in the US, and try to persuade the authorities there to accept that algorithms - the mathematical techniques underlying software - cannot be patented, just as the laws of nature cannot be patented.